This blue-eyed hell raiser was an overnight star

Actor Peter O’Toole’s career was a curious mix of blockbusters and films that petered out without an impact

By Author  |  Published: 21st Jul 2019  12:52 amUpdated: 20th Jul 2019  10:54 pm
blue-eyed

Did you know that iconic English actor Peter O’Toole once wanted to be a journalist and actually dropped out of school to work as a copy boy? Well, fortunately for us, if he had continued to walk on that path, we would have never gotten the magnum opus called Lawrence of Arabia which transformed the gangly actor into an overnight star.

The acting bug bit the star pretty early on, who went on to study the performing arts at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Multiple theatrical stints later, he made his TV debut in 1954 playing a soldier in The Scarlet Pimpernel. Despite a host of opportunities that came his way, the actor chose minor roles in big budget films and big roles in films of a smaller scale. His break, though, would come with Lawrence of Arabia. He passed away, aged 81, in 2013.

Lawrence of Arabia, an autobiographical movie based on the British Army officer TE Lawrence had Peter garb himself in the flowing robes of Arab tribesmen and dive head first into the geopolitics of the region. The film directed by David Lean is a two-part show with the first part setting the premise of Lawrence’s exploits as he crosses the barren Nefud desert with a scant number of men to seize the port of Akaba in Jordan. It dresses him up as a romantic figure in audience’s memories which is called into question, by the time part two rolls around.

The journalist chronicling the Arab situation, Lowell Thomas, is told by Prince Feisal that he will find his hero to shoulder the war effort in the Middle East in Lawrence. By this time, Lawrence’s moral and mental decline is a reality and we experience through Peter’s haunting blue eyes the mental anguish he carries within. His efforts to help the Arabs establish a well-functioning government doesn’t work out and he finds himself back in England as a colonel. The movie took home seven Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, to name a few.

Director: David Lean
Producer: Sam Spiegel
Cast: Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif, Peter O’Toole
Release date: December 10, 1962


Becket

Criticised for its error-laden historical account, Becket features a wonderfully daft performance by Peter O’Toole who plays the royal courtier and confidant of King Henry II (Richard Burton). The plot revolves around their friendship which is tested when Henry proposes Becket’s name for Archbishop of Canterbury. As Becket takes on duties of the church seriously, his fear comes true setting off an irreversible chain of events. Watch it for the camaraderie between O’Toole and Burton.

Director: Peter Glenville
Producer: Hal B Wallis
Cast: Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole and John Gielgud
Release date: March 11, 1964


What’s new Pussycat?

Double entendres and sexual connotations pepper this comedy which has Peter O’Toole playing a notorious womaniser. He wants to stay faithful to his partner, but finds it hard to fend off the female attention he is constantly showered with. Determined to mend his ways, he visits a psychoanalyst to help him, who is himself dealing with romantic troubles.

Director: Clive Donner
Producer: Charles K Feldman
Cast: Peter Sellers, Peter O’Toole, Romy Schneider and Ursula Andress
Release Date: June 22, 1965


How to Steal a Million

Peter O’Toole stars alongside Audrey Hepburn in this romantic comedy which became a box office hit. Audrey Hepburn’s father Bonet is a crook who forges famed artworks and sells them to museums. When he lends a counterfeit Cellini’s Venus to a prestigious museum, he realises that his secrets may come tumbling out if the painting is inspected. He tells his daughter to get someone to steal the painting. The rogue she hires is Simon Dermott who is actually a detective trying to weed out the fake artwork. What follows is a series of misadventures and how love can happen in the most unexpected circumstances.

Director: William Wyler
Producer: William Wyler & Fred Kohlmar
Cast: Peter O’Toole, Audrey Hepburn, Eli Wallach and Hugh Griffith
Release Date: July 13, 1966

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